Monday, February 02, 2009

Meditations On .... Okay Fine, On Meditation

When I was a junior in college I was kind of a mess. I was in a deep deep funk and wasn't really sure if there was a way to get out of it. I was annoyed by everyone and everything pretty much all the time. So when my classes were over, I used to come back to my room and try to get away from things for a few hours, usually until the boys from the 5th floor would round me up for dinner time.

Since I was in a depression, I would sometimes take a nap, but that got kind of old and messed with my sleep cycle. So to decompress, I would play solitaire on my roommate's computer after class and listen to the Beatles.

Until 1997, I hadn't listened to any "white people's music." My record collection consisted of about 500 rap tapes and CDs (mostly tapes, since I was cheap and they were easy to copy). So when I got the Beatles Anthology 3 album that Christmas, I was only really familiar with their well-known singles, and The Magical Mystery Tour, which isn't one of their better offerings, but my mom had it on record and we used to play it slow to hear the cartoon characters say "smoke pot, smoke pot, everybody smoke pot."

Anthology 3 covered the Beatles' "third period," (The White Album, Abbey Road and Let It Be), which was a period with which I was not familiar. At the time, my image of the Beatles was "she loves you yeah yeah yeah" Ed Sullivan era stuff, so when people talked about how influential they were, I assumed it was a bunch of aging hippies reluctant to let go of their lost youth. Little did I know that the Beatles were my gateway to music with singers, instruments and melodies.

So anyway, while these revolutionary sounds played in the background, I absently played like 30 different versions of solitaire. (Those games were awesome, I wish I could find them.) And though I didn't realize it at the time, I was giving myself therapy. Because while my conscious mind went through the mechanics of placing the correct cards in the correct spots, my subconscious mind was in a trance, taking in the music that I couldn't believe was 30 years old.

I was completely obsessed with this music, and started omnivorously collecting as much info as I could about them. So for several months, I would come home from class, let my brain fork off in two different directions.

As I got familiar with the works of the Fab Four, I stopped listening as actively, and started zoning out even further than before. And though I didn't realize it was happening, I was working out all my problems in my head. I wasn't staring at a wall, which would have been depressing. Instead, I was keeping my brain occupied -- like giving a child a toy and putting him in the corner for a few hours -- while my subconscious worked things out. To say that I was cured of all ills might be pushing it, but I was slowly, gradually, unwittingly pulled out of my quicksand of melancholy.

Flash forward to 2009.

I read about a set of albums called Disintegration Loops by William Basinski, and though it doesn't sound like my cup o'tea, I take a flyer on it and download the whole 4-disc set.

The album is a collection of several songs, ranging in length from 10 to 90 minutes. They are on an endless loop, and play the same four or five seconds of music over and over. It drones on and on and on for upwards of 20 minutes or more at a clip. But there is a twist.

The loops were originally created (I'm guessing on a reel-to-reel tape) in the early 1980s. When Basinski decided to convert the tapes to a digital media in 2001, he noticed that they tape started to erode -- flake off, practically -- with every pass. He realized that the tape was literally disintegrating -- dying -- before his eyes. He decided to let the tapes play over and over until they couldn't play anymore due to decay. (The story continues that he completed these recordings on the morning of September 11, 2001, and that he and his friends watched the twin towers collapse with these playing in the background, providing a fitting soundtrack of destruction.)

This is not the kind of artsy music that I generally find myself drawn to. I like things that are catchy, melodic ... Beatle-esque, you might say. I get bored with The Police because their choruses go on too long, and that's usually like a minute and a half. This is sometimes 45 minutes of the same sound over and over.

But much like those Beatles tapes before them, these are hypnotic. I've been listening to them while I go to sleep for the last few nights. And at first, it's a little annoying and boring. But after a while, it sort of becomes something else altogether, kind of like an audio version of one of those "Magic Eye" posters. And unlike something even as dense as, say, a 14-minute Ornette Coleman free-jazz piece, there is nothing new to latch on to, other than the gradual hissing, buzzing and crackling of the tape being stripped down, layer by magnetic layer.

But by that time, I have gone into la-la land. Strangely, I have found myself in a sort of waking-dream state, almost like being hypnotized. Before I have drifted off into full-on sleep mode, brief but lucid movies are playing themselves out in my head. I can hear voices and sounds and see colors and details. It's a delicate tightrope walk, because the slightest sound or change in the music can wake me right back up, but maybe my subconscious is going back to working itself out again. I think I have finally experienced a "Zen" state of mind via the death throes of a BASF tape.

So I'm not sure what to make of the fact that I find myself entranced by both the most accessible music in the history of the world, and the least accessible music in the history of the world. But I do know that God forbid I fall asleep to a Creed album, my brain will probably explode.

1 comment:

The VP said...

Your mind would be blown from listening to Creed my friend